Greg Gordon may not be as well-known as some investigative journalists, but he is one of the best in the business. Greg has penned an incredible series on Goldman Sachs, detailing how the company bet against investment vehicles they had designed (to fail), for which he was a finalist for a Pulitzer last year. [See the sidebar for links to his many 2009 stories on the financial crash.] He has continued to cover this area, as well as many others, turning out a major story a week.
Today Greg Gordon focused on the evidence against Bruce Ivins, pointing up a major failure in the FBI’s case. This failure is the FBI’s inability to link a contaminant found in the first set of letters to Ivins. It is not clear how hard the FBI tried to find the contaminant in anyone else’s laboratory.
The contaminant is Bacillus subtilis, a usually benign bacterial strain that is closely related to the bacteria that cause anthrax. Whoever made the anthrax for the first set of letters included some Bacillus subtilis in the mix, and therefore had it in their possession (and lab). The FBI’s failure to find this contaminant in hundreds of samples from Ivins’ home, car, office and laboratory virtually assures us that Ivins did not grow the anthrax for the first set of letters… at least not in the only lab equipment to which he had access.
UPDATE: Video of Greg Gordon discussing this subject is here.
… But the FBI’s decision not to fully test for the distinct bacterial contaminant, pieced together by McClatchy Newspapers in interviews with scientists, federal law enforcement officials and in a review of recently declassified bureau records, could reignite the debate over whether its agents found the real killer.
The Justice Department closed the eight-year investigation, said to cost as much as $100 million. However, none of the circumstantial evidence it found showed that Ivins prepared the deadly powder, scrawled “Death to America” in a seeming mimic of al-Qaida, or twice sneaked away on 61/2-hour roundtrip drives to drop them in a Princeton, N.J., mailbox.
If the FBI got the right man, then there is no consequence to its decision to stop hunting for bacillus subtilis, a harmless bacterial contaminant that resembles anthrax. But if Ivins was innocent, then the killer is at large, and the bureau may have missed a big opportunity…
One person close to the investigation, who requested anonymity to avoid harming relationships, suggested that FBI officials felt “trapped” by Ivins’ suicide. “If they ever had any doubts, once he committed suicide, they had to unite,” this person said. “Otherwise, you’ve driven an innocent man to suicide. And that’s a terrible thing…”